I feel inordinately smug when I tell people that I’ve deactivated my Facebook account. The expressions of shock that greet this statement are a testament to the social networking website’s sheer hold over contemporary living. Foraying into Internet hermitude is not just impressive, it’s downright inspiring, it seems: every time I’ve mentioned it I’ve been gawked at like I had just announced I was donating my left arm to science and my right to reinforce a coat hanger.
No surprise, because until certain security concerns reared their ugly heads, the thought of shutting down my account was utterly unimaginable. I couldn’t shake my fists at its time-wasting, stalking-encouraging and superficial-posturing qualities because I was too busy typing a new status update or textually tangoing in response to a friend’s photo. Facebook is the ultimate can’t-live-with-it-can’t-live-without-it paradox of these times.
The morning after my grand departure (and it is grand – in its typically manipulative way, among the rigmarole of confirmations the website presents includes showing you “friends” who might miss you), I woke to a flurry of emails from close friends – actual ones – regarding the departure in question. Nearly all had assumed I had deleted them.
Ah, that delicate thing that is defriending! If I’d just pruned my list instead of plucking my very presence out of the site, I wouldn’t have been deprived of its many benefits But as anyone who uses it will tell you, one of the great farces of social networking is the idea that it helps you form small social systems of your own choosing. Rather, you become connected to everyone you know – regardless of how you feel about them. Facebook has all the complications of real-life tensions, sugarcoated in cheery cybercivility. This was probably why the Superpoke application was invented, thereby simultaneously providing some space to vent within the system and introducing the word “defenestrate” into the common parlance.
I was able to clarify the situation to those who simply asked outright. But as weeks passed, I wondered if less forthcoming folks had taken offense, made assumptions, or otherwise overreacted to perceived defriending. Further complicating things was a loophole that sometimes showed my profile, along with a list of mutual friends – thus conveying the impression that the viewer was deleted, but all mutual friends remained intact. Unbeknownst to me, what decisions were being made – professionally, personally or politically! – based on a presumed snub? What wills was I being written out of, parties disinvited from (I can’t be phototagged anymore, which seems to be the point of most parties these days) and negotiations dropped from as I carried on obliviously in the post-Facebook world?
Social faux pas or not, how much healthier it felt to have my communications go from a superficial broadcast level to a meaningful personal one. Remember kids, stalking is no excuse for not saying hi.
But I write all this in the past tense, despite being still very much off-site, because I must admit there’s a chance that by the time you read this, I’d have reluctantly reactivated. Because when it comes down to it, a hiatus from Facebook is like an impulse wedding – it would be great if it works out, but it’s probably not going to last forever. Staying off Facebook is almost as much drama as being on it.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.